Why a Pub at St. Mary's University?


On Thursday evening, St. Mary's University dedicated and opened the Contreras Family Terrace, which includes a pub. The pub is just one of four gathering spaces St. Mary's has developed through the generous donation of graduates Tom and Leti Contreras.

The other three spaces are a beautiful patio, an outdoor stage for concerts and other performances, and a spacious student lounge with televisions and comfortable seating. The pub, which also has televisions and a small stage for karaoke and other entertainment, will serve members of the St. Mary's community food and refreshments, including beer and wine to adults 21 and older.

With great excitement, the St. Mary's community has looked forward to the opening of The Pub and social spaces. But a few have questioned, "Why has a Catholic university established a gathering space that serves alcohol?"

One important answer is that the Contreras Family Terrace, including The Pub, will promote a core Catholic and Marianist belief: that we are relational beings. We follow God's special calling to each of us and become more fully human, not in isolation, but through our interactions with others, by extending ourselves to our neighbors.

Much of our students' development into mature adults - perhaps most - occurs outside a four-cornered classroom. Through service to others, collaborative work and countless conversations, St. Mary's students advance along their lifelong journeys surrounded by the befriending embraces of their fellow students, our Marianist brothers, and lay faculty and staff.

On this point, there's history here. The dedication of the pub this past Thursday was actually a rededication and reopening. A pub existed on the St. Mary's campus from the '70s until the early '90s. St. Mary's graduates from this era fondly recall regular get-togethers of students, Marianist brothers, and lay faculty and staff for the occasional cheap beer and free conversation. Our benefactors, Tom and Leti Contreras, met there as classmates and have two children who came to St. Mary's.

But what does fun in The Pub have to do with following God's call? Here I enlist Pope Francis for his wise counsel. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (or Joy of the Gospel), Francis chides those "Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter," and the Pope reminds us, "an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral."

But why serve alcohol at The Pub? The short answer is that at St. Mary's University, we view every encounter as a teachable moment. We recognize and accept that young adults in the 21st-century drink (just as young adults did in every other century).

We also understand that heavy drinking among young adults is serious and epidemic. A 2013 study indicated that almost 40 percent of college students age 18 to 22 had engaged in "binge drinking" - five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion - within the prior month.

So what's the teachable moment at The Pub at St. Mary's? I think it's this: that young adults - over a beer or two - can have fun by spending a few hours with one another, their professors, our Marianist brothers and maybe even their president.

This column was previously published by the San Antonio Express-News.